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A new study shows the marijuana may lower the risk of becoming obese and of developing diabetes. The study suggest that cannabis compounds found in marijuana may provide some help in controlling blood sugar and keeping users from putting on the pounds.
Smokers of marijuana may be surprised by this bit of information due to a commonly know side effect from partaking of the plant, known as the “munchies.” This study done by the American Journal of Medicine is not the first study to show that marijuana has a somewhat odd relationship with weight. Three previous studies have shown that users of the drug are less likely to have diabetes, be obese, and have a lower body mass index. It is surprising because most users take in more calories a day than non-users.
So how can a drug know for making people hungry help prevent them from becoming obese and developing disease that are linked with obesity like Type II diabetes? According to Harvard Medical School Associate Professor of Medicine, Murray Mittleman, who was the lead author of the study, the answer may lie in the way current users metabolize carbohydrates, they seem to do it better than non-users. Users insulin levels are lower while fasting, and they appear to be less resistant to the insulin that the body produces which helps maintain blood sugar levels.
Participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005 to 2010 were used in the research. More than 4,600 men and woman of whom 12 percent were current users, and 48 percent had used the drug at least once, were included. The authors controlled for other factors that could affect the risk of diabetes like age, alcohol use, tobacco use, income level, physical activity and sex, and still with those adjustment being made, current users of marijuana had 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels than non users and those who were former users. There was also a decrease of 17 percent in another measure of insulin resistance.
Participants who smoked on a regular basis had smaller waistlines, an average of one and a half inches smaller than those who have never smoked or no longer smoked marijuana. High-density Lipoprotein, know as the good cholesterol that can protect against heart disease was found in higher levels in current smoker as compared to those who no longer partake or never had smoked at all.
It is still unclear to researchers what the explanation for these findings are. The study was not a controlled trial so it can not be determined if other factors in users’ behaviors or if the marijuana itself is the cause of these health benefits.
Studies have shown that cannabinoid brain receptors that are affected by marijuana are very much engaged in metabolism and appetite. The specifics of how the compounds change the relationship between calorie intake and appetite and the response of insulin is not clear.
A diet drug that was made to have the opposite effect that marijuana has on the brain may give some answers though. Rimonabant a drug that affects cannabinoids receptors in the opposite way that THC does, produced substantial drops in fasting insulin levels and increased weight loss. Through a complicated process rimonabant does not just block the receptor and keep cannabinoids from activating it. Natural cannibinoids raise the normal level of activity occurring in the system, rimonabant lowers it resulting in the reverse of activating the receptors naturally. The side effect of rimonabant which included suicide risk caused it to be pulled from European markets and prevented approval in the United Sates. The question remains though, how could a drug that has the opposite effect on the same receptors as marijuana lead to the same result of weight loss? One possible explanation could be that another compound beside THC could be responsible for the effect, perhaps a substance know as cannibidiol that also affects cannabinoid receptors but does so in a different way than THC or rimonabant..
Other possible reason could have to with tolerance. Those who smoke regularly may have receptors that are less sensitive. The receptors become less active which in turn reduces the risk of diabetes and obesity because the inactive receptor would not activate the cannabis-like molecule which keeps people overweight. So while marihuana, in the first stage of use may cause over eating after time the cannibinoid receptors lose their sensitivity and in the long run may prevent obesitiy.
Further studies need to be done to find the precise reason why marijuana may decrease the risk of obesity and diabetes, and with new attitudes in the U.S. and more states passing or considering medical marijuana laws, the outlook for increased studies on marijuana and the effect it has on the brain are better then in the past. Obesity is one of the biggest health concerns in the U.S. finding ways to decrease both obesity and diabetes would save lives and money.
By Jessica Hamel
CNN:Marijuana: The Next Diabetes Drug?
Dinafem:Smoking Marijuana Reduces the Risk of Obesity and Diabetes
International Business Times: Marijuana Blood Sugar Study Says Cannabis Lowers Diabetes and Obesity Risk
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